By Tom M. Roberts
To set the issue of women in business meetings clearly and precisely before us, there first must be a basic understanding about what we mean by our terms. Some might jump to unwarranted conclusions anytime it is suggested that women participate at any level in a “decision-making” process (whether business meeting or not), assuming that any activity of women in such a capacity is radical feminism. On the other hand, others might be as quick to assume that a denial of women in any kind of participation relegates women to second class citizenship in the kingdom and degrades them as compared to men of the church.
In order to avoid this pendulum swing of extremes, we should be very sure that we understand our terms and that they have a firm foundation on the word of God. What we believe and practice must not be either a position based on ancient cultural traditions or a reaction against a more modem, liberalizing culture. Contrary to what some teach, the Lord’s people can establish a scriptural practice outside the constraints of time and tradition, solely upon a “thus saith the Lord,” independent of and separate from any other consideration. The question is, “What does God authorize?”, not “What is cultural at the moment?”, or, “What was cultural in New Testament times?” Women’s Liberation concepts must not be allowed to influence us; male chauvinism has no place in our deliberations. It is inspiration from God alone that guides our thinking.
Subjection: A Place of Service
One misconception that must be destroyed is that subjection equates with value. Many object to the subjection of women to men, suggesting that this diminishes the value of women. Patently, this is not true and the Scriptures teach otherwise. Jesus Christ voluntarily subjected himself to the Father, thereby elevating subjection as a means of service (Phil. 2:5-11). Men are “a little lower than the angels,” Christ himself becoming a man; but in manhood is found a place of service and none should rail against angels simply because we are “lower” than they (Deb. 2:6-11). Likewise, women are to be in subjection to men and find their place of service in that role (1 Cor. 11:3;1 Tim. 2:11; 1 Pet. 3:1). Each in his or her place, though all are in subjection, are servants of the same God and of equal value in his sight. Let us not be lead into areas of contention by non-issues.
Decision-Making Process or Making Decisions?
Another non-issue, when properly understood, is the objection to women being included in the “decision-making process.” Again, we need to be clear in our terms.
The “decision-making process” is the process of gathering information, seeking counsel, weighing options, expressing the needs of the whole church and looking at alternatives. This process, culminating in a condition where adequate information is received that will permit a decision to be made is quite different from the leadership position in which actual decisions are made. It is scriptural to include women in the decision-making process by which their voice, intelligence and soundness is appreciated and weighed. Then the men (if in a business meeting, or the elders, if such exist) retire and make the actual decisions. Women cannot remain in subjection and have an equal voice in making decisions. This is sustained by Paul’s instructions to Timothy: “But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence” (1 Tim. 2:12). It would be a usurpation of women over men (especially in those congregations where women outnumber the men) for women to make decisions on an equality with men. Thus, to answer our lead question, it would be without scriptural authority for women to participate in any meeting in which decisions are made on behalf of the congregation. God has appointed male leadership in the church and this is exercised in either the business meeting of the men or the eldership (Acts 20:28-32; 1 Tim. 3:1-7; Tit. 1:5-9; Heb 13:7, 17; 1 Pet. 5:1-3).
We see a parallel in another collectivity: the family. A wise man includes the wisdom and experience of his wife in discussing alternatives that face the family. In any collectivity, after full discussion, some one is charged with making the final decision. In the family, this is the husband (Eph. 5:22-33; 1 Pet. 3:1). In the church, the men (or the elders) make the final decisions.
Service (v. 3); the number of these men would be seven in number (v. 3). While it might be argued that some things decided by the apostles were matters of “the faith” and not judgment, such could not be said for the fact that seven men were to be chosen (not more or less). Here is a private meeting of men that decided on a matter of judgment on behalf of the entire congregation. This instance provides apostolic example for men having a business meeting (unless there is an eldership in place, Acts 14:23) where women are not included and where matters of judgment for the whole church are decided.
Needless to say, such decisions are made in matters of judgment, not in matters of the revealed faith, which are decided in heaven (Jude 3).
“Does Acts 6 Authorize Women in Business Meetings?”
With the above disclaimers firmly in place, we consider the events of Acts 6. In this chapter, we have males (the apostles) leading the church and making decisions in matters of judgment while the “multitude of the disciples” (vv. 2, 5), the congregation, acted as one to carry out what was decided. We infer that “the multitude” included the female members of the Jerusalem church.
But were women excluded from all considerations of the problem? No, quite clearly, they were included. Through a process not specified (thus, permitting generic options), “the multitude” “looked out from among themselves” (v. 3) these seven men whom the apostles appointed to their work (vv. 3, 6). The action “pleased the whole multitude” (v. 5), thus bringing peace and accord to a troubled church (v. 1). Similarly, faithful men in business meetings have met for uncounted years and decided matters for congregations, engendering peace and accord in local congregations on every continent of the globe. Abuses of this scriptural process (unwise men, arrogant overlords, violent arguments, etc.) do not destroy the right of such meetings to exist.
A Modern Example of a Scriptural Precedent
At the Woodmont congregation where I preach (and also serve as an elder, along with brother Ron Houchen), we have one or two congregational meetings each year in which the whole church comes together to discuss all aspects of our work. In this meeting, the women are encouraged to speak, make suggestions, ask questions, give their counsel and provide information. The elders understand that some women do not have husbands or have husbands who are not Christians and need to be informed. At the same time, we value the soundness, wisdom and experience of every member, including the women. After a full and extended discussion of our work, the eldership retires and prayerfully decides on behalf of the congregation the best actions to take, grateful for the counsel of every member. We believe this respects the Scriptures in providing male leadership (in this case, the eldership), provides the women with occasion to serve while remaining in subjection and avoids the pitfalls on either side: radical feminism or male chauvinism.
Did the apostles meet privately and make decisions before and without the whole multitude coming together (the equivalent of a men’s business meeting or elders’ meeting)? Yes, quite clearly this was done. The apostles met first to consider the problem, decided some matters and then called the multitude together to tell them of their decisions. What did the apostles decide independent of the congregation? That the apostles would no longer serve tables (v. 2); that other men (not women) would discharge this Acts 6 is a part of the inspired record that teaches us how to allow the church to function under male leadership while respecting all the principles taught elsewhere in the word of God regarding the role of men and women in the kingdom of God.
Guardian of Truth XXXIX: 3 p. 16-17
February 2, 1995